Councillors say Ruataniwha dam project 'dead' after court decision

A screenshot from an animated video of the proposed Ruataniwha dam in Central Hawke's Bay.
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A screenshot from an animated video of the proposed Ruataniwha dam in Central Hawke's Bay.

The Ruataniwha dam has been declared dead in the water by the council that has spent millions of dollars developing it.

Through its investment company, Hawke's Bay Regional Council has spent several years and about $20m planning a water storage scheme to irrigate drought-prone land on the Ruataniwha Plains in Central Hawke's Bay.

But the project suffered a major setback last week when the Supreme Court ruled a land-swap required to free up conservation estate land required for the scheme had not been legal.

After the court ruling, the Government signalled it was prepared to legislate around the decision, but a regional council committee was told on Wednesday that such a process could take up to two years, if it happened at all.

READ MORE:
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Ruataniwha land-swap to be appealed in Supreme Court

Council chief executive James Palmer told the meeting of the environment and service committee the future of the scheme was now "deeply uncertain" and it "looks less likely than ever before to proceed in the short to medium term".

Councillors were even more emphatic that the project would not proceed.

"The dam is dead. There's no question about that," Neil Kirton said. "The reality is it's all over."

Peter Beaven said the Supreme Court had delivered a "fatal blow" to the project and "we need to face up to that reality".

"I feel like we've got a dying beast in front of us that we need to euthanise," he said.

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While using the Public Works Act to acquire the land at the centre of the Supreme Court decision had been floated as an option, Tom Belford said six of nine councillors had indicated they opposed compulsory acquisition, so the project could not proceed.

Wednesday's committee meeting resolved to request the council's investment arm, Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), to provide advice on the merits, or otherwise, of further investment in the scheme.

The committee also asked HBRIC to outline the implications of the council shelving the scheme, so the council could consider whether to remove a planned future $60m investment in the scheme from its long-term plan.

Debbie Hewitt said the Supreme Court decision was "an absolute tragedy" for the people of Central Hawke's Bay.

It had been hoped the project would provide a major economic boost for the area.

Hewitt said the council was being "foolhardy and reckless" excluding the Public Works Act option at this point, and there was no urgency to do so.

Councillors agreed the council now had a major job on its hands to implement a change to the regional resource management plan related to the Ruataniwha catchment.

The plan change was put in place by a board of inquiry working on the assumption that the dam would go ahead and would provide a large amount of water within the catchment for environmental purposes.

 - Stuff

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